Bewitched by Costa del Kerry

Furniture designer Walter Castellazzo and his wife Avril have fallen under a driftwood spell in their Co Kerry seaside retreat

Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 01:00

A chance New Year’s Eve celebration in Foley’s bar in Inch, Co Kerry lured London-based furniture designer Walter Castellazzo and his wife Avril to the coastal charm of Co Kerry.

Walter and Avril had the time of their lives in Foley’s. They had fallen in love with Ireland 15 years previously and had been returning regularly. On one of those visits they’d even gone as far as lodging €50 in a Galway bank account, promising themselves that some day they would put down roots here.

Avril and Walter have been together since 1989, when she noticed him rocking up to a bar in Camden in an old Land Rover with a steer horn on its front. He introduced himself by sending her a bottle of champagne, explaining that he had to drop his cousin to the station and asked would she join him for a glass when he returned. It was an exciting pick up line, Avril admits.

At the time Walter was working in the film business, making props, having got into the industry while waiting tables at L’Escargot. He overheard a group at a table looking for a model of the Empire State Building and told them he could do it. It featured in a Benson & Hedges cigarette advert. He worked in Pinewood Studios on sets for the Rolling Stones and on The Stranglers’ Always The Sun video.

Avril and Walter set up stall at Camden Market selling his furniture and in 1994 they opened their shop, Walter Castellazzo Design (WCD Design) in an old Georgian building in Highgate, where they stock several Irish makers including Annascaul Pottery, Cushendale rugs, Jerpoint glass and Jim Turner ceramics. “Our London clientele love the integrity of the designs of these small independent makers,” Avril explains.

In the newborn days of that New Year in Kerry, while out walking Walter chanced upon a modern dormer bungalow that had heavenly views. Surrounded by farmland, it was set on the side of a mountain above Inch Strand and looking out to sea – a big canvas that changed constantly. Buying a house in Inch was “a crazy thing to do”, the couple admit. “We were used to restoring old properties. We bought an unfinished new build from builders from Annascaul.”

It took them eight years to get it the way they wanted it. For Walter, who is from Lecce in Puglia, known as the Florence of the south, the coastal walks, the woods and the seascapes have changed the direction of his work.

His company has created furniture for RTÉ’s John Creedon and artist Liam O’Neill. In London their client list includes Pauline Collins, Victoria Woods, Jonathan Pryce and Tim Pigott-Smith.

The house has been integrated into the landscape by the planting of some 4,000 grasses, heathers and lavenders, all hardy enough to withstand the prevailing wind. This was done at the suggestion of Stephen Crisp, a friend who is head gardener at the American Embassy in London.

A feature dry stone wall has a driftwood backed bench built into it. A set of steps, also driftwood and adorned with sun-bleached buoys, leads up to a viewing platform. Out front a large deck lets you drink in the view which takes in Inch Strand, the Iveagh Peninsula and miles of open sea.

The living space is open plan. A concrete finished fireplace divides the sitting and dining rooms. You can look through the glass-fronted fire from one to the other.

In the sitting room, a large Cassina sofa is joined by a coffee table that has a driftwood base made from wood found locally – it is one of several pieces made by Walter that decorate the house.

A solid walnut dining table with stainless steel cleats and matching benches has pride of place in the dining room. Made by Walter, it adjoins another work by him – Standing Warrior, a Navaho-inspired revolving CD rack that uses an old Austin car shield as a point of interest and is decorated with a cow horn and a dream catcher.

Upstairs the floorboards are painted in Farrow and Ball’s Blackened. The cavity walls in the dormer bungalow have been used to create seamless-looking wardrobes. Walter made the beech bed and matching bedside tables in the main bedroom. There is a driftwood dressing table by him in the spare room.

“The setting feels so special,” says Avril. “You exhale, breathing a fabulous sigh of relief and your worries depart.”

Walter Castellazzo Design,